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For Belarus: Singing against Europe’s last dictator

A new compilation featuring artists like Gudrun Gut and Mary Ocher is raising money for protestors in Belarus. Chikiss explains how she put it together.

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Chikiss put together the For Belarus compilation to help protestors in her former home country. Photo: Maxim Green

Chikiss, AKA Galina Ozeran, is a Belarus-born electronic artist, composer and DJ. She lived and worked in St. Petersburg for 15 years before moving to Berlin in 2015. Her new compilation, For Belarus, raises awareness about the political protests in Belarus against the dubious reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko, often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”. All proceeds from downloads go to the Belarus Solidarity Foundation, which provides aid to victims of government repression.

Iva Fehr caught up with Ozeran for a chat about the new compilation.

The artists on the compilation come from all over the world. How did you bring them together? 

I didn’t think I’d be able to start this kind of initiative. I was never really into politics or activism. I had to react very quickly to get other artists on board. I’m in touch with amazing artists around the world. I asked some of them to join this project, to support the Belarusian people. It’s important to show that the protests are peaceful. There is no vandalism. There are no slogans for or against Russia, for or against EU-integration. Only for the resignation of the illegitimate president and for fair and transparent elections.

People are tired of living in permanent fear, under a dictatorship where you can lose your job, your freedom, or even your life for telling the truth. Almost all the artists I asked agreed to join the initiative. In the first two days, we received more than €2000, really good for a free compilation on Bandcamp. All funds go directly to the Belarus Solidarity Foundation, an organization helping the victims of political repression, people who have lost their jobs because of the peaceful protests. There are a lot of them.

The compilation itself is quite diverse in terms of style, but what would you say is its overall narrative?

I always build suspense in my work, be it an album, mixtape or compilation. There should be an introduction, a climax and a denouement. In our case, a happy ending. The collection presents music of different genres — electronic, pop, post-punk, avant-rock, synthpop, hip-hop, somatik techno, even protest songs of Polish workers in the 1920s. There are also some premieres. More than 20 artists from 12 countries are featured on the compilation. It’s so great that very different artists got together in the collection. That was the goal. 

One of my favourites on the compilation is “Frei Sein” by Gudrun Gut, who lived and studied in West Berlin during the late 1970s and early 1980s, when, of course, it was still a divided city. There’s something very urgent and anxiety-provoking in her song. What was it like working with her?

I respect Gudrun so much. I have known her label, Monika, for many years. When I lived in Russia, the local female electronic scene was very small and scattered, and Monika was very inspiring for me. She is from the West. I think Gudrun always knew what freedom was. I cannot say the same about Soviet countries.

To be free means to live without fear. “Frei sein” is what the people of Belarus go out onto the streets for. To build a new country. They can do it, I believe. People need support, of course, to know that they are not alone. The Belarusian diaspora showed great solidarity, we all united in one big peaceful protest. They also need financial support. These funds work, their actions are transparent and donations can help people who lost their jobs or need medical treatment after being beaten by police survive, or pay for their fines and lawyers. 

Image for For Belarus: Singing against Europe’s last dictator

Protests in Belarus. Photo: Jana Shnipelson / Unsplash

Do you expect any backlash to the release?

The aim of this compilation is to support the victims of political repression and peaceful protestors. It doesn’t contain any political slogans. I have seen some negative comments from Russians. A lot of them think that protests are wrong, calling it Ukraine 2.0. I respect Ukrainians, but Belarus has its own struggle. A lot of people don’t even try to understand the difference. It is very unpleasant for me as a Belarusian to hear peaceful protestors being called fascists. President Lukashenko swore an oath under the white-red-white flag to serve the people in 1994. But, apparently, he decided to forget about it. So it’s time to leave. We are all waiting for what will happen next with anxiety and hope.

You were born in Belarus, but lived in Russia for 13 years. Now you’re in Berlin. How has the adjustment to Germany been for you, and how would you say the music scene in St. Petersburg differs from here?

The main different between the music scene in Russia and the one in Berlin is that the Russian — also Belarusian — scene is monocultural. We all come from the same context, we have similar memories from childhood, Soviet or Post-Soviet, and similar cultural and historical backgrounds. You see this when you travel from point A to point B through the whole country. Architecture, lifestyle, people look similar, monuments of Lenin on the main streets of towns, there aren’t even any strong Russian dialects.

On the other hand, our identity is also complex. Many musicians were influenced by European and American sounds. But in the last few years, the scene has changed a lot, a new Russian scene has grown, freer from western influences. Many musicians switched from English to Russian – not only in music, but in art and fashion. Berlin’s international vibe is easier. It doesn’t dictate any rules of behaviour, style or trends, as in Russia. Everyone can be what they want. I like to mix these two realities for inspiration. 

There have been some stunning images of the protests in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko, widely reported by the media as being “Europe’s last dictator.” Is there any image in particular that made a lasting impression on you?

Yes, there are many. I have never seen so much violent content and pain on my Facebook feed, like in the first days after the election, when people got back on the internet. As you know, in the first days the internet was blocked in Belarus and we couldn’t reach our relatives and friends. Only by following group chats on Telegram were we able to witness this nightmare, second by second. Many Belarusians didn’t even know what was happening in their own country, they were blocked and attacked by an army of sadists. It was a real hunt.

The scariest thing for me was to see photos of missing people. Most of them are very young and beautiful. As a mum, I can feel the pain of their parents. And, of course, the photos of the brave, peaceful protestors, these amazing girls and women wearing white and holding flowers, linking arms in solidarity. The workers on strike, theatrical figures, doctors and teachers. They can no longer be called the opposition, because they are the majority. It’s beautiful, this mass awakening. Belarus in general has never been free. All these photos made me cry. I wanted to be there. I have never felt something similar. For the first time in my life, I really understand what people feel when their country is in danger.